By Ben Kuzma
VANCOUVER — It’s an expensive 1970 Petrus, a Bordeaux almost as old as its owner.
Normally, you wouldn’t make much of a 43-year-old wine connoisseur and his collection of valued vino that topped out at 1,000 bottles. But this one is chasing his third Stanley Cup and the oldest active player is making two promises. Boston Bruins winger Mark Recchi will finally uncork the Petrus should his 22nd season conclude with another championship ring and he will bid the game adieu as a player who trails only Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Ron Francis in games played.
The Petrus was priced at $1,700 when Recchi purchased it in the mid-1990s while playing for the Montreal Canadiens. He doesn’t know its present-day value — current online bidding has one going for $3,500 — but knows what he’ll do if the Bruins can beat the Vancouver Canucks. Dust it off, reach for a corkscrew and toast an amazing career.
“Yes, I will,” Recchi said Sunday from Boston as his Bruins prepare for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks. “If we win, there’s definitely no doubt I’m going to walk away. I want to stay in the game and work with a general manager and learn the development side of the game. I think I understand some parts as a player.”
Now there’s an understatement.
Never one to bang his own drum, Recchi leaves it to others to make noise about his 1,652 regular-season and 182 post-season games, his 1,533 points that rank 12th in league history and his 15 playoff appearances. When recognized as the male athlete of the 20th century in his hometown of Kamloops, B.C., and having a street near the main downtown arena of his hometown re-named Mark Recchi Way in 2000, it seemed fitting for a career that appeared to be winding down.
Far from it. He knew the way to NHL longevity.
“It’s pretty hard to explain, but I avoided big injuries and stayed healthy and conditioning is a big part of it,” said Recchi. “When I got older, I knew what I needed to be successful. You figure that stuff out. And you drink red wine.”
Outside of groin strains and a concussion that forced him to miss nine games in 2000, Recchi has been an iron man for seven teams. Dwayne Roloson and Recchi were the only players born in the 1960s to play this season and Mike Modano and Recchi were the only players drafted in the 1980s to still be active.
Ken Hitchcock coached Recchi in Kamloops of the Western Hockey League and twice in Philadelphia. He believes Recchi’s willingness to ramp up his off-season training a dozen years ago — to introduce anaerobic training that few of his peers were matching — is why he can still match strides. Not that it was easy to witness all that huffing and puffing.
“There were days when I thought he wasn’t going to make it,” said Hitchcock, who guided Canada at the recent IIHF world tournament and has interviewed for four NHL coaching vacancies. “It’s just amazing and one of those things that just continues to shock me. There’s a certain stage where you just play on your brain, because you could survive a few years. He not only keeps up, but has the ability in big games to elevate his game.
“He doesn’t play careful. He still has a reckless way about him and you really have to love that.”
Recchi pondered retirement last summer, but returned for one more season because he has a defined role on a team so good at even strength. He also had the trust of management and the coaching staff.
After 14 goals and 34 assists in the regular season on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Recchi has just two goals and five assists in the post-season and is pointless in seven games. He knows the Presidents’ Trophy winners will be tough to contain in the Cup final because of superior foot speed that has allowed them to escape forechecks, get defencemen involved in the rush and ignite the cycle game.
“We just faced a team that was terrific in the transition,” said Recchi. “The big thing is we have to find ways to slow down their (Canucks’) transition and the forecheck is a big part of our game. It creates a lot. We feel they’re better than Tampa, a big team that’s fast and deep. It’s obviously going to be a huge challenge for us but it’s an exciting one.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault got 32 goals from Recchi during the 1997-98 season and isn’t surprised the winger has remained relevant.
“He was a great player then,” said Vigneault. “Am I surprised at 43 that he could still be playing, I don’t think so? Not with the amount of time he put in to his conditioning, the way he got prepared and just the overall way he seems to enjoy the game.”
It’s easier to list the players Recchi didn’t play with than noting all the notables. He obviously lists Mario Lemieux as a huge influence along with Bryan Trottier and Joe Mullen. But when Recchi paid his dues with Muskegon of the International Hockey League after being picked by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 1988 draft, he cited minor-league snipers Dave Michayluk and Jock Callander for smoothing the transition from a 61-goal WHL season.
For a player who started his junior career in Langley, B.C., and New Westminster, B.C., before becoming a household name in Kamloops, playing for the Stanley Cup in his home province couldn’t have been scripted better.
A final chapter in the final? Perfect.
“It’s going to be tough when it’s my turn to leave, but this is extremely special,” said Recchi. “I couldn’t think of a better way to play in the Stanley Cup.”